This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

On Friday night, guests will mill around in business-casual dress for Communities in Schools’ Celebrate the Children: A Taste of Caldwell County.

They’ll load their plates with barbecue, pizza, Mexican food, appetizers, desserts and just about any other type of food you could imagine.

Later, music (from the Harper School and the acoustic trio Strictly Clean & Decent) will drift through the room.

Those trappings of the event are firmly on the grown-up side of the age spectrum. But a few others aren’t.

Dr. Seuss-style decorations will fill the room, including decorations made by CCC&TI’s compensatory education students. Steve Stone, the county superintendent, will lead a Seuss-themed cakewalk.

At this event, which is CIS’s main fundraiser, no one wants to forget what it’s all about.

“It’s called Celebrate the Children because we don’t want to lose focus of what it’s all about,” said Terese Almquist, event co-chair and the publisher of the News-Topic. “It’s about the kids.”

For Communities in Schools, every day is about the kids. The organization works to engage the business community and private citizens in a monumental task: Keeping students from dropping out of school.

In Caldwell County, approximately 500 students receive direct, one-on-one mentoring from CIS, and about 6,000 benefit from broader services and programs.

That includes everything from scholarships to events like the Reality Store. During the latter, every eighth-grader in the county gets to choose an (imaginary) education and career and see how it affects their (also imaginary) bottom line.

This year, 93.5 percent of CIS-mentored students stayed in school. Of that group, 95 percent were promoted to the next grade.

“They’re learning so many life skills, and skills that they really can use in the future,” CIS executive director Debbie Eller said.

CIS is partially funded by grants, and it’s a United Way organization. But Taste of Caldwell is its largest fundraiser of the year.

“Without it, there are a lot of things we just couldn’t do,” Eller said.

The event will feature multiple auctions – both live and silent – and food from restaurants and vendors around the county. The silent auction features themed baskets (kids, golf, beauty, gardening, Christmas, and car wash, to name a few). There’s also a $500 cash drawing.

Just don’t get too serious. It’s an event for adults, but it’s about the kids.